1. Listen during active times. Some kids (particularly boys) are more responsive to talking when they are doing something active. So find active things your child likes to do (fishing, kicking around a soccer ball, building with Legos, shooting baskets), and talk together.
2. Talk about your child's interests. Try tailoring the conversation around your child's interests: her CD collection, his baseball cards, her Strawberry Shortcake doll, his Power Ranger collection. It might be a great entrée to a discussion about what's really going on in your kid's life.
3. Go to your kid's zone. If you want some one-on-one talking time with your kid, then go to a place your kid enjoys: the mall, the batting cage to practice his swing, the golf range to hit a bucket of balls, a favorite parlor for ice cream. Your child will be more relaxed because she's in her territory and just might be more likely to open up.
4. Ask specific questions. Kids get turned off by those generic "How was your day?" type questions. If you want to invite conversations, then ask more specific questions: "Who did you sit next to during lunch?" "What story did your teacher read today?" "What game did you play in PE?"
5. Ask questions that elicit more than one-word responses.
Make skillful use of your questions so that your child must respond with more than a one-word answer: "How would you have ended that book?" "What would you have done differently in the game?" "What are your feelings about . . . ?"
6. Find the best time and place for listening. Research finds that parents can learn a lot about their kids en route to school and activities. Here are common topics parents say they either talk about or overhear conversations about that help them find out more about their kids' lives while in the car: school, 91 percent; children's friends, 90 percent; values, 82 percent; extracurricular activities, 81 percent; chores, 69 percent. So now think: Where do you and your kids have those great conversations? Once you identify that sacred spot, make sure you frequent it often so you can use it to get to know your child.
7. Mandate family dinners. When my kids were growing up, sports, church group meetings, music lessons, and play practices used to appear on the calendar constantly, taking away from our "together time." So we finally sat down and figured out the times no one had anything scheduled, and those were mandated for family dinners. If your family schedule is equally hectic, you may want to set aside specific weekdays for your family dinners. Don't let anything interfere with your plan: family dinners still are the greatest place to give your kids your full attention and hear what's going on in their lives.
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